|Martin Sheen and Patricia Neal|
"He was magnificent -- as long as the situation was impersonal." Nettie describing John.
Timmy Cleary (Martin Sheen of That Certain Summer) is back from the war and finds himself in the midst of a quieter battle: his parents' lousy marriage. Father John (Jack Albertson) is unfaithful, frustrated, and not the most romantic of souls, while mother Nettie (Patricia Neal of Psyche 59) is bitter and vituperative, a touchy and neurotic middle-aged woman disappointed with both life and marriage. Both parents, growing older, continue to see the sensitive Timmy as the boy he used to be and not the man he's become. Timmy buys roses for his mother, but tells his father to say they were from him ... The Subject was Roses is based on Frank D. Gilroy's Pulitzer prize-winning play (comparisons to Long Day's Journey into Night are completely off the mark however), and Gilroy also wrote the screenplay. Sheen and Albertson repeat their Broadway performances, and the film was directed by the play's (and movie's) first-time director, Ulu Grosbard. This is a good, absorbing picture, but there's also something "off" about it, with the actors seeming over-rehearsed (Sheen and Albertson had played the roles many times) -- and sometimes the underplaying (especially by Neal) makes it seem, conversely, more like a rehearsal than the real thing. Judy Collins performs two songs, "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" and "Albatross" -- the last of which she also composed -- which work quite well during sequences that "open up" the play. One odd thing about the movie is that Timmy is supposed to be back from WW2, but the picture has absolutely no period atmosphere whatsoever -- you'd think he was back from Viet Nam!
Verdict: Interesting and rather depressing marital drama. ***.